HPPUB MOVIE REVIEW of Gods and Monsters, Kinsey

 

Title: Gods and Monsters

Release Date: 

Nationality and Language: USA, English

Running time: about 120 Minutes

MPAA Rating: 

Distributor and Production Company: Lions Gate Films

Director; Writer:Bill Condon

Producer: Clive Barker (Executive)

Cast:   Brendan Fraser, Ian McKellan

Technical: Arriflex (2.35 aspect ratio to 1 widescreen), digital

Relevance to HPPUB site:

Review: Movie Review: Gods and Monsters; Lions Gate Films (USA/UK); Wirter/Director: Bill Condon; Executive Producer: Clive Barker;  R or NC-17; 115 Minutes; Arriflex (Wide-Screen Format) and THX Stereo; 9.5/10

This film provides an absorbing, sometimes speculative and graphic account, of the last years of "closeted" gay horror film (Frankenstein…) maker James Whale (Ian McKellen), who was found drowned in his California pool in 1957. His life is shown through his platonic but increasingly emotionally intense platonic relationship with a "straight" lawn boy "tough guy" Clayton Boone (Brendan Fraser). (Yup - the older gay man/younger straight man story again, just as in Love and Death in Long Island). Boone is drawn into modeling and sitting for painting sessions: he is sometimes repelled by Whale's indulgent talk of overt homosexuality, yet keeps coming back as he realizes that Whale (when compared to various girlfriends) seems to be the only person around really capable of loving him.

The flashbacks of Whale's boyhood in preWW1 England (he was taken out of school and put to work in the factories to make a "man" out of him) and as an officer in the trenches during WW1 are harrowing. (I could have used more flashbacks). He had fallen in love with another officer, who would die in combat; but their love never seemed to undermine "unit cohesion." Indeed, the movie gets the chance to comment on some social issues: gays in the military, and "family values." At one point, Boone's girlfriend complains "a man who doesn't get married is a nothing." Sounds like George Gilder! There is a flasbkack of a pool party with pretty, naked boys: police used to raid parties like that back in the 50's and get people blacklisted. I wanted to see a little more about the closety behavior of gay men in that era, mention of McCarthyism, etc.

Who are the "Gods" that become "Monsters." Are they the heroic boyfriends that one fears may get their clay feet amputated?

This was an important effort for Executive Producer Clive Barker, himself a major painter and novelist (his novels are MUCH more important contributions to culture than his horror films). The flashback filmmaking scene (in effective black and white) where a Frankenstein a skullcap is chopped off and brain inserted seems rather dream-like rather than scary. One looks forward to films of Barker's The Thief of Always (his "children's" novella - too scary!!), and let us hope, his Fautus-like masterpiece Sacrament. One wonders why he had to go to the UK to finance this outstanding picture about (for the most part) California gay life during the Eisenhower years.

In Nov. 2004, another Bill Condon film (Fox Searchlight 118 min, hard R), Kinsey, would create controversy. It is a docudrama presenting the life and, more pertinently, the intellectual contributions of famous sex researcher Dr. Alfred Kinsey.

The film starts out in non-linear fashion with the mature Kinsey (Liam Neeson) debriefing his three main research assistants (Clyde Martin, played by a vocal Peter Sarsgaard, Wardell Pomeroy, played by Chris O’Donnell, and Paul Gebhard (played by Timothy Hutton) in black-and-white CinemaScope, like this film is going to be a conversation. And indeed it is. Kinsey and his wife Clara (Laura Linney) are virgins on their wedding consummation night, when Kinsey wonders why the vaginal act is not more pleasurable for her. Others come to him for help, and Kinsey begins his intellectual journey, about how people will use sex to promote their own happiness.

The film tends to sag in the large middle with a lot of discussion about science and real peoples’ lives. Nevermind there are moments, as when Kinsey begins to become aware of his own homosexual longings and allows Clyde (sometimes fully nude with conspicuously hairy chest) to seduce him (it is interesting to see Saragaard become “aggressive”). Since the 50s, others have questioned his 1-6 hetero to homo continuum for men, and some have questioned his choice of subjects. Nevertheless his books start rolling off the presses, and they can’t be printed fast enough. He interviews his own father (played by John Lithgow) who confesses being forced to wear an undergarment hearse to prevent accidental masturbation. Toward the end, Kinsey’s funding sources (Rockefeller University) come into question, and it seems like the film could have spent more time on the McCarthyism problem.

What comes across the most is how many people didn’t want to know about sex—because if they “knew” they would be distracted from their own performance and their ability to make their real lives work. “Everybody’s sin is no man’s sin. And everyone’s crime is no crime at all.” A lot of people don’t want to hear this. That deserves some discussion.

Today, in fact, as homosexuality has become more public (to the point of overthrowing sodomy laws, debating gays in the military and gay marriage, and accepting gay themes in the media), a lot of people could feel pretty distracted. Some of this is religion, and the idea that certain religious teachings must not be questioned. (The film glosses over that point.)  More probing is to figure out why society sometimes actively hunted homosexuals down, to the point of police raids on gay bars with the “naming names” in the papers, to the purges in the State Department. There is a 50s gay bar scene in the movie, a quiet bar (even if protected by the Mafia), and the credits mention “effete man in gay bar.” One could say homosexuals were perceived as an enemy, capable of emasculating ordinary men, and that is part of the explanation.

Consider the basic paradigm as we came out of WWII. A man established his worthiness by competing with other men to prove that he could fight for his own family, find the best wife and provide his own progeny by proving he could support and defend is own women and children. A man “earned” a permanent place in his family and his world by succeeding this way. For men who did not succeed as much in business—for the working class—accommodation through finding “the right girl” was still possible, because raising a family still conferred working-class dignity. The process of heterosexual courtship, marriage, and blessed event were all part of the ruse, even if men believed in a “double standard.”  So the homosexual was the natural enemy. The morally good thing about this paradigm of family values was that it did take care of people not prepared to take care of themselves:  it raised kids, cared for the elderly (who in those days didn’t live as long) and even the disabled, without too much involvement by the state. Moreover, it family structure and responsibility by those able to work gave dependents a sense of purpose and meaning, however personally unearned. So old-fashioned family values provided a certain façade of individualism and self-reliance. But the day would come when real individualism would compete with the ‘family” and show its weaknesses (the tendency to preserve undeserved wealth, the encouragement of segregation and past reliance on slavery).  But most telling of all, “average” people would not want to know about all this, because their sexual performance could be undermined by such sophisticated knowledge But Kinsey’s books would sell, even as they would be condemned and as people would walk out on his lectures. Even today, some people want to boycott this film which, even if not the best visual storytelling, puts a lot of cards on the table.

This all hits close to home. In my adolescence, I was pressured by family and peers to come out of my fantasy world (where I thought there were things—music—that I would be very good out) and compete on other people’s terms—learn to play competitive sports, learn household mechanical chores, and the like. This idea of “paying your dues” is a lot easier for a boy with heterosexual inclination than for a pseudo-sissy like me. After all, these are the skills you need to compete with others to feed a family and support dependents. That takes on a moral nature because it purports to force an individualist like me to authenticate himself by meeting the needs of others before drawing attention to myself, but this moral paradigm easily gets corrupted at the top. Therefore, the far political Left tries to find relief and freedom for someone like me by denying the importance of individual merit and defining a communal way in which the dirty work of society will get done, through taxes and redistribution of wealth (as well as by classifying people into suspect classes, possibly with different expectations from the individuals of the different classes). But that runs into another paradox, which Kinsey could have explored more: the upward affiliation often associated with male homosexuality is predicated on the idea that some men are “better” than others. Again, a complete circle.

 

Related reviews: Barker’s books Imajica, Sacrament  Movies: Latter Days and others

 

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